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5 ways to kill fruit flies before they take over your kitchen

fruit flies trapped in a bottle
Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Tiny flies are quick to invade our homes, especially in warm, humid weather. Left alone, these bugs are capable of causing a disgusting and embarrassing infestation that may last for weeks or months. They erupt in clouds above potted plants, swarm around trash cans, and hover over drains.

To eliminate a fruit fly infestation in your home, follow five simple steps:

  1. Practice good household sanitation
  2. Control indoor humidity
  3. Identify the pest
  4. Eliminate breeding habitat
  5. Trap adults

Identify and eradicate fruit flies and their lookalikes

We may casually refer to them all as fruit flies, but there are at least four distinct insect species that could be the root of the problem. In any case, if you want them out of your home, you’ll need to know the difference in order to eliminate the conditions that attract them.

closeup of a fruit fly on a leaf

Fruit flies

Fruit flies are tiny, oval flies with clear wings that can grow up to one-eighth of an inch long. Their bodies are tan and black with a gray underbelly and big red eyes (although some have dark-colored eyes).

As their name suggests, fruit flies often crawl on and hover near over-ripened fruit or scraps of produce. Attracted to any moist environment with fermenting fruits and veggies, they also frequent sink and floor drains, garbage disposals, empty juice, wine, or beer containers, trash or recycling containers, mops, and cleaning rags. To prevent an infestation, dispose of damaged produce and leftover food scraps promptly. Clean up any spills when they occur, and don’t forget to regularly clean trash cans and recycling bins.

If an infestation has already begun, give your whole space a deep cleaning to identify and eliminate the breeding habitats. To trap any lingering bugs, pour a few ounces of cider vinegar into a jar and place a homemade paper funnel into the top. Set these in any areas where you observe any adult fruit flies, and kill or release the collected flies outside. 

closeup of fungus gnat
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Fungus gnats

Fungus gnats are the same size as fruit flies and have similarly transparent wings. However, these gnats have a thin, grayish-black body with long antennae. Larvae are minuscule wormlike grubs that may appear translucent, with a black head and dark gut.

Unlike fruit flies, fungus gnats live in and around moist soil. They are especially attracted to the damp peat-based potting mix that most house plants grow in. When the plants are undisturbed they may not be evident, but as soon as they’re watered or moved, fungus gnats erupt from the soil surface, stems, or undersides of leaves.

Killing fungus gnats proves challenging for a number of reasons. In their week-long adulthood, females lay between 100 and 150 eggs that hatch within four days. The larvae then grow and develop below the soil, where they are difficult to kill since they have an amazing resistance to insecticides.

Prevent and eliminate fungus gnat infestations with good watering practices. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil surface to dry out in the interim. If larvae are feeding on decorative plants, apply systemic insecticide. However, don’t use a systemic product on plants that you consume because it can be poisonous if ingested. Instead, use yellow sticky traps to monitor and reduce the adult population.

closeup of phorid fly
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Phorid flies

Phorid flies resemble fruit flies in size, but range in color from black to dull brown. Upon close inspection, they appear to have a humpback due to their arched thorax. 

Phorid flies often find their way into homes by hitching a ride on garbage cans or compost containers where fruits and veggies are discarded. They may also find favorable breeding conditions in recycling bins, damp mops, wet rags, or in the evaporation pan beneath a refrigerator.

To prevent and treat active infestations, search out and eliminate breeding areas first. Larvae require locations with consistently moist decaying organic matter, including areas near plumbing and crawl spaces. Foggers and other area pesticide sprays will kill adults, but not larvae, so prevention is key. Sanitation and moisture control are critical to permanently eliminating infestations.

closeup of drain fly
Cherdchai Chaivimol/Shutterstock

Drain flies

Drain flies range in color from yellowish to black. They are fuzzy like moths with scaly wings that they hold over their body like a roof when resting.

These nuisance bugs are typically found hanging out on walls or ceilings and breed in the stagnant water of rarely used toilets, sinks, floor drains, and refrigerator evaporation pans. They can also breed outdoors in moist areas like clogged gutters or the space around air conditioning units, then find their way into homes through open doors or windows. 

To eliminate and control drain flies, keep pipes clean and use traps regularly. Outdoors, keep gutters and downspouts free-flowing, and ensure that all water drains away from the house.

Fruit flies may just appear to be nuisance bugs, but they can spread illness by transmitting bacteria in food preparation areas. To prevent and eliminate these pests, practice good home sanitation and moisture control. Eliminate the breeding ground and the pest will eventually move elsewhere.

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